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Centuries of History
Before the Founding
A Fortified Town
The Bourgeois Centre of the City
A New Victorian Showcase
The Heart of the Metropolis
The Historic City Centre

Heart of the Canadian Metropolis

In 1910, to capture this panoramic view of the heart of the city, the photographer climbed to the top of a brand-new giant grain elevator in the port, built to handle grain exports from the Canadian West. Click on the picture to see an enlarged version!
Montréal seen from the port. Montreal in Halftone, circa 1910

Between 1880 and 1930, Montréal was a major industrial centre — Canada's metropolis!

New St. James Street skyline, 1913 or 1914

What had been the old walled town was still the bustling business district. On St. James Street, Canada's answer to Wall Street, great classical colonnades were once again in fashion, and ten-storey skyscrapers shot up!

Montage : The Hearth of the Metropolis
Montage : Denis Tremblay, 1999

The financial centre of Canada


The great Canadian magnates, most of them of Scottish origin, based their financial operations on St. James Street, wheeling and dealing with their counterparts across the country. The Francophone bourgeois class also made Montréal its base, carrying out business throughout the province.

St. James Street in 1930
St. James Street in 1930.
S. J. Hayward Studio. Royal Bank Archives

Thriving business

In 1925, people would head for Sainte-Catherine Street to admire the new goods and fashions in shop windows, or for an evening out. But the old city centre remained the financial, legal and administrative centre of Montréal. The import-export trade, newspapers and the central market were still humming along in the old streets.

Old Montréal in 1950

Old Montréal in 1950, by Armour Landry.
Archives nationales du Québec, Montréal


The monument to Maisonneuve
The monument to Maisonneuve, by the Notman Studio, circa 1896.
McCord Museum of Canadian History


In all the hustle and bustle, some Montrealers began erecting monuments and commemorative plaques to preserve the disappearing memory of an "Old Montréal."


Some key events


The first trans-Canadian train pulled out of old Montréal, bound for Vancouver.


Montréal's first skyscraper was built in Place d'Armes: a dizzying eight storeys!


The first electric tramways appeared. Place d'Armes was the main junction.
1918 The Port of Montréal, completely transformed by its huge piers and grain elevators, became the second largest in North America, after New York.
1922 The first radio signal was transmitted in Montréal, from the roof of the La Presse building.
1929 Montréal and its business district, like the rest of the Western world, was crippled by the Great Depression. Ten years later, World War II would begin.
1944 Victor Morin, a writer of the time, noted: "The city centre proper, comprising finance, administrative services, professional and trade interests, is still limited essentially to the area known as 'Old Montréal,' that is the part of the city bounded by the old fortifications."
The Historic City Centre

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Old Montréal

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Last updated: April 2000